La Fortaleza (or The Fortress in English) is the current residence of the Governor of Puerto Rico. It was built between 1533 and 1540 to defend the harbor of San Juan, Puerto Rico. The structure is also known as El Palacio de Santa Catalina (or Palace of Santa Catalina).
During the 1640 reconstruction, the chapel of Santa Catalina, which originally existed outside of the walls, was demolished and was integrated to the walls of the structure. This would give rise to the name of Santa Catalina's Palace.
Back portion of La Fortaleza, San Juan's wall and sea-side gates to the city. (2003)
La Fortaleza was the first defensive fortification built for the city of San Juan, and the first of a series of military structures built to protect the city which included the Fort San Felipe del Morro and the Fort San Cristobal. The construction was authorized by Charles V as a defense against attacks from the European powers of the day and Carib Indians.
Initially, the structure consisted of four walls enclosing an interior patio with a circular tower known as the Homage Tower. From the top of the tower, the governor, following military tradition, would take oaths of fidelity at critical moments to the Queen and the King of Spain. Later, a second tower named the Austral Tower was constructed.
At present, the complex consists of a few attached buildings with formal living quarters in the second floor, and private quarters in the third. It overlooks the high city walls that front the bay, and within the north perimeter of the house are sheltered gardens and a swimming pool.
Since the 16th century, La Fortaleza has acted as the residence of the Governor of Puerto Rico, making it the oldest executive mansion in continuous use in the Americas. On November 27, 1822 the tradition of executive mansion was officialized. The fortress underwent a massive reconstruction in 1846 to change its military appearance into a palatial facade. La Fortaleza has been the residence of over 170 governors of Puerto Rico and has hosted various dignitaries, including President John F. Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline Kennedy who stayed in La Fortaleza in 1961.
La Fortaleza has been taken twice by invaders:
Tradition holds that in 1898 just before the United States took over Puerto Rico after the Spanish-American War, the last Spanish governor of the island, Ricardo De Ortega, struck a grandfather clock with his sword in La Fortaleza; stopping the clock and marking the time at which Spain lost control over Puerto Rico.
Front view of La Fortaleza from Fortaleza street.
On October 30, 1950 four Puerto Rican nationalists staged an attack at the entrance of La Fortaleza. Three of them were shot and killed by policemen.
In 1983, La Fortaleza was declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.  (http://whc.unesco.org/archive/repcom83.htm#266)
On May 26, 2004 a man armed with a knife entered the mansion's mailroom located just outside the palace gates and took a receptionist hostage. The 2 1/2 hour stand-off ended after Governor Sila María Calderón entered the building and heard the hostage taker read a letter.
- Government of Puerto Rico - Executive Mansion: Santa Catalina's Palace (http://www.fortaleza.gobierno.pr/Fortaleza/MansionEjecutiva/SantaCatalinasPalace_Eng.htm)
- UNESCO - World Heritage Center: La Fortaleza Historic Site Information (http://whc.unesco.org/sites/266.htm)
- Government of Puerto Rico. Executive Mansion: Santa Catalina's Palace (http://www.fortaleza.gobierno.pr/Fortaleza/MansionEjecutiva/SantaCatalinasPalace_Eng.htm). San Juan, Puerto Rico.
- World Heritage Committee. Report of 7th Session, Florence 1983 (http://whc.unesco.org/archive/repcom83.htm). Paris: UNESCO's Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natual Heritage. January 1984.